September 22-23, 2007

by Andrew Darbyshire

Andrew, Elke, Bernadette, Henning and Arthur

Our 15th Leonard Cohen birthday celebration night in Toowoomba was one that we all had high expectations of, as our small group here in Toowoomba had invested more effort and time into making sure it was a good one, and indeed it was to be the first one where we had international guests and performers! Henning Franz (Germany) had been teed up well in advance and discussions around the participation of Ann Vriend (Canada) had also taken place early in the piece, though it was more involved to organise for Ann to perform, particularly with the challenging travel logistics relating to her being in Berlin just a couple of days beforehand!


Simon & Graham



Janet & Jim


Stephanie, Paul & Rick (behind the bar)

The other organisational challenge we had had was to secure one of the five movie prints in Australia of Leonard Cohen - I’m Your Man. Because of a small hitch along the way, concern about the actual arrival of this film featured as part of my pre-event anxiety constellation! Anyway, Ric Carlsson from the Icon Cinema reassured me that it was definitely going to happen and indeed it did.

Henning and Elke arrived in Queensland on the Friday and we eventually rendezvoused in a nondescript shopping centre car park south of Brisbane, before travelling together into that city, where Henning and Elke dispensed with their hire car. It was then on to Toowoomba and its spring time celebrations. As part of the fastidious planning that had taken place in Toowoomba, all the primed flowers and blossoms, in their exquisite and immaculate colour, welcomed the Franz visitors and, of course, this was neither unnoticed nor unappreciated!

Our venue this year was one which suited the occasion perfectly: the beautiful retro 60’s style Icon Cinema that we were able to book through Ric. We were not only able to have the movie here, but the DVD and live performance sessions as well. The event kicked off on Saturday with the screening of Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man, the Lian Lunson produced film. There were a good number present and everyone I spoke to afterwards was enthralled by the movie. Of course the décor of this cinema just added to the experience, I think most patrons would agree. It was also nice to know that Henning had deliberately held off seeing the movie in Berlin recently, because he wanted to experience it down under at our event!

The music DVD session, though initially off to a slow start from the numbers perspective, saw a build up in numbers and transitioned our evening attendees into the main live performance night. Our first performers on the Saturday live performance night were Graham Nunn and Simon Sheehy from Brisbane. Graham read out a number of Cohen’s poems to the musical accompaniment of Simon, with the performance being both poignant and engrossing. They ended up doing the two performance brackets. The poems Graham did included: Gift; The cuckold's song; Bullets; The luckiest man in the world; The flowers that I left in the ground; Owning everything; Looking away; One of the nights I didn't kill myself; Poem; Unbecoming. Simon then performed his own powerful rendition of Bird on the Wire.

At this point in the night, the momentous time arrived for me to be able to warmly welcome Henning as the first international performer at our event! Taking stage, he did a moving bracket of his sensitive musical interpretations of Cohen’s poetry from both Energy Of Slaves and the Book Of Longing, as follows: An orchard of shore trees; How could I have doubted; Split; Other writers; Crime against love; My life in robes; Gravity; The sun; The cold; Looking away; God opened my eyes; My baby wasn't there; Now in my room.

Our last live performer for the evening was our local hero, John Gallagher, who enthusiastically did his trademark strong renditions of Cohen’s songs, covering: Is This What You Wanted; The Future; Let's sing Another Song Boys; Chelsea Hotel #2; Dress Rehearsal Rag; Joan of Arc; Avalanche; Lover, Lover, Lover; Tonight Will Be Fine; Diamonds In the Mine; Everybody Knows and The Butcher.

Sunday morning witnessed the a repeat screening of Leonard Cohen - I’m Your Man, during which time Henning and I did a dash to Brisbane to not only collect Ann Vriend from the airport, but also a hired keyboard and hire car! It was with great relief that we eventually found Ann, who was much affected by a head cold, as well as being jet-lagged. She also seemed very happy to see us and be transported to where we all knew there would be a friendly and enthusiastic audience to welcome her. Ann slept on the back seat of the hire car for the 1.5 hour return trip to Toowoomba (and then a little more). She was then able to gather herself and ready her cold-affected voice a little at my place, prior to the concert.

In the meantime, the small but committed audience back at the Icon Cinema were watching Leonard Cohen in concert courtesy of the wonderful full length San Sebastian concert (1988) DVD. Following this, there was an unavoidable delay due to Ann’s physical condition and the need to appropriately manage it and accommodate her pre-concert preparation, we had to stall her concert for a while. However, this provided us with the perfect opportunity to bring Henning back on for another bracket of his LC song/poems. This was indeed fortuitous, as some of us not only got to hear more of Henning, but others (such as Blonde Madonna from the Forum) had their first chance to seen Henning perform! In this bracket Henning covered: One of us cannot be wrong; Lorca lives; Hallelujah; I miss my mother; Tower of song.

The climax and culmination of our event finally arrived on Sunday afternoon when our Canadian songstress Ann Vriend, though uncomfortable and unwell, bravely and cheerfully took to the stage (despite the clear constraints she faced as a singer in such circumstances). Ann did brilliantly in the circumstances and everyone I spoke to really appreciated not only her outstanding talent and engrossing style but also her strength of character and the good spirited and humoured approach to her work! She established an instant rapport with the audience and everyone seemed greatly touched by her personal sacrifice to perform with everything working so obviously against her! In the first part of her show Ann covered: Coming Back to You; I'm Your Man; Bird on the Wire; Hey, That's No Way to Say Goodbye; Chelsea Hotel and If It Be Your Will. Following a short break, Ann was also given the latitude to perform some of her own very worthy and compelling songs, though after a while her voice reached a limit beyond which it would have been inadvisable to push. So, our audience generously and considerately acceded to Ann’s need to conclude the show at that point.

Julie, Graham, Narelle, Michael & Simon (hat)

After packing up the equipment and a brief respite from the rush of the day, in the evening a number of us took Ann, Henning and Elke for an authentic Aussie pub meal in the countryside north west of Toowoomba! This was an enjoyable, relaxed and fitting way to end the weekend which had indeed proven to be a very significant, rewarding and memorable 15th LC birthday celebration in Toowoomba.

My sincere thanks go to all the performers and everyone who attended and supported our event on this special occasion. Most importantly, my heartfelt thanks go to Henning, Elke and Ann for making the big effort to come on “down under” for our event – an undertaking that was clearly one of considerable cost! I must also wholeheartedly thank all the ‘Dancing Bear’ crew who supported me in the lead up to, and during, the event. Finally, I must thank Ric from the Icon Cinema, who not only provided us with the ‘cool’ venue, which first time visitors really seemed to appreciate, but also was the projectionist for our movie sessions and provided us, along with his staff, with drinks and refreshments from the bar!

Andrew Darbyshire
Toowoomba, Australia

For more info write to Andrew Darbyshire.